Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Sermon 2nd September 2018: Year B: 15th Sunday after Pentecost:Text: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 – Traditions or stumbling blocks

Sermon 2nd September 2018
Text: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 – Traditions or stumbling blocks.

One of the first things that I have done in my 3 parishes that I have served in is spent some time learning the traditions of each congregation.
The reason I have done this is because of my understanding – this is your congregation and parish not mine.
And so I have wanted to serve you and the best way to do that is to find out what makes you who you are.
And usually that is the traditions you keep and hold as valuable.
That’s not to say that nothing will change but change has to come for the good of the congregation and parish and not so I can have my way.
One of the more difficult occasions was when I was called to serve the Frankston Parish and facilitate a joint worship with the Uniting Church and Lutheran Church.
I knew there would be differences in some of the theological understandings but my first objective was to make both churches feel that this was their service.
So I found out traditions that identified them and not their theological positions.
The Uniting Church liked to begin the service with the Minister being led in to a hymn with one of the children carrying the altar bible ahead of him.
So we did that and immediately the Uniting Church members identified with the service.
The Lutherans wanted to stand for the Gospel reading and sit for the hymns.
The Uniting wanted to sit for just about everything but stand for the hymns.
So we stood for the Gospel and the hymns.
They were traditions that looked rather minor to the onlooker but they identified who they were.
But sometimes traditions are challenged or even forced to change.
For example, when forming a parish there may needed to be some change.
Original Church times might conflict so there needs to be some compromise – one congregation may even feel it’s to their detriment.
The Church with the earlier time may need to forgo precious time catching up with the Pastor ..
One congregation has to accept that the Pastor may not live or have an office in their locality.
So there are some traditions that by necessity are needed to change for the greater good.
Congregations will always face challenges when change becomes a necessity and we try to hang to the way things have always been.
Congregations have a huge challenge in encouraging young families to regularly attend.
The budget is always a worrying challenge.
But sometimes we need to see past these and see the blessings that are there.
As a parish there are now 2 or more service times
As a parish you may increase your musical talents.
In my parish we now have a contemporary service every week, alternating at each venue.
We have a traditional service every week also.
We can now do more things because we have more people to work together with.
As a parish we have 3 bible studies.
As a parish we have a monthly youth program.
But to have these we needed to let go of some traditions and see each other as one church working together in 2 different locations – not US and THEM..
That’s holding on to human traditions.
In letting go of human traditions there is sometimes a sacrifice we have to make.
But the blessings that emerge outweigh the sacrifice and they create new and better traditions.
But it is just as easy to dismantle the blessings.
For Jesus it was a simple criticism about his disciples not washing their hands.
Jesus saw this as a threat to blocking the gospel by putting a human tradition in its way.
It wasn’t the action that was concerning to Jesus but what was in the heart that prompted that human tradition.
As he says:
'This people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; (Mark 7:6)
Sometimes it can be the little things that prevent the blessings from flowing from God.
The things that we say that don’t really reflect the unity that God has established in our parish as the body of Christ.
Words and actions that keep us as 2 bodies rather than one body working in 2 places.
Yes there may be some sacrifices by both congregations but the blessings that have come down from God will be amazing.
And they will continue to flourish while we keep putting God’s will ahead of our own human traditions.
Traditions are good.
They identify who we are.
But when they stop identifying us as the body of Christ and letting the love of God flow through us then they are no longer divine but purely human traditions that turns the Christian faith into a worthless religion that only looks after itself.
That’s not what we want see here in our congregations or on our LCA and for that we thank God from whom every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, has come from above, coming down to bless us.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Sermon 26th August 2018: Year B: 14th Sunday after Pentecost:Text: John 6:56-69 – Lord, to whom can we go?

Sermon 26th August 2018
Text: John 6:56-69 – Lord, to whom can we go?

The Victorian Government has recently introduced an incentive for you to compare energy companies to see if you can find a cheaper deal and they’re offering you $50 to do so.
There are many many choices all offering massive early payment discounts to get your business.
Insurance companies try to find out when your policy is up for renewal so they can make an offer for your business.
You have lots of choices that you can go to and if you can’t decide then you can go to companies like iSelect or Finder who will find the best offer for you to go to.
If you don’t like Coles you can walk a short distance and go to Woolworths or Aldi or Costco.
If you don’t want to pay tolls on Eastlink or Citylink you can go on other roads that are free.
We have choices to which we can go.
If we don’t like something then we have options to go elsewhere.
Even in the church we have options to go elsewhere.
If we don’t like a certain type of service we can find churches that offer different styles.
But what we seen in today’s Gospel reading is a different type of choice being exercised.
We have disciples rejecting Jesus – that’s a real concern but it is part of God’s free will that he has given us which we are free to exercise.
It’s what we are experiencing in today’s church and is not a lot different from the days of Jesus.
People leave the church for a variety of reasons.
They lose interest.
Their personal commitments take them away on Sundays.
They no longer see any relevance of church in their life.
Someone upsets them – maybe something that was said that was misunderstood.
It’s interesting in our Gospel reading why so many disciples turn away from Jesus and no longer followed him.
I’m not quite sure which part of what Jesus said actually caused them to turn away:
His claim to be the bread of life?
His talk about his ascension?
His claim that some there didn’t actually believe in him?
His statement that no one could come to him unless the Father granted it?
Nevertheless we read, “because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him”. (John 6:66)
Jesus won’t force anyone to follow him so he asks the 12 apostles:
"Do you also wish to go away?" (John 6:67).
Peter answers on behalf of the 12 with one of the most profound statements:
"Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)
There are many things in life that we disagree with, things that hurt us, things that offend us.
We can change insurance companies, we can change supermarkets, we can change football teams.
We have free will to choose.
We can go elsewhere.
We can even change the church we attend.
But what concerns me is when I hear that someone has walked away from God.
Because when we walk away from God we walk away from the words of eternal life.
We have nowhere to go which offers us what God offers us – eternal life – free!
Yes we can worship in our own way and time – we can pray at home – we can even watch Songs of Praise or the Christian TV network.
But these don’t replace church - gathering in worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ to hear the Word, to hear and receive the absolution – the forgiveness of our sins – to receive the body and blood of Christ.
These are essential for our faith to arm us against the devil and all his works and all his ways.
Paul makes it very clear what we are up against as Christians.
He says; our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
When it comes to our faith, Satan sends in the big guns to attack us – rulers, authorities, cosmic powers.
If we think that we can handle these on our own we are gravely mistaken.
No, he says we need to “take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day”. (Ephesians 6:11-13).
Many underestimate the intention and effectiveness of the devil.
In fact the devil’s greatest weapon is making us believe that he either doesn’t exist or that he has no effect on me.
But Paul says that the devil’s attacks are deadly accurate:
He calls them: flaming arrows of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16)
Arrows that can hit with precision.
He knows what will attack our faith – anger, offense, complacency, doubts, fears.
God doesn’t tell us to fight against the devil – no, we’d lose miserably.
Paul says to “stand firm” – not to attack.
Christ does the attacking.
What God does is he gives us armour to protect us which include:
The belt of truth.
When Satan attacks us with lies we stand on the truth.
When Satan accuses us of our sin and makes us doubt our salvation we stand firm on the truth of God’s Word that says emphatically that God loves us and has forgiven us.
We put on the helmet of salvation.
If you’ve ever been in an accident you know how vulnerable the head is.
That’s why we wear helmets on bikes and motorcycles to protect our vulnerable heads.
God’s assurance of salvation protects us where we are most vulnerable.
Jesus says – whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.
Our baptism, the water poured on our head, is our helmet of salvation so when Satan accuses us we can stand firm and respond “I am baptised”.
There is no doubt that the church is under attack today.
We are losing numbers in the pews.
We are losing our finances.
We are losing our credibility and relevance.
This is now the time for the church to stand and put its trust in God.
It is easy to give up.
It is easy to go into defeat mode.
When you feel like those disciples who found the going tough and wanted to leave, remember Peter’s words:
Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
If you feel like giving up, where will you go?
This is not new.
Satan has been attacking the church from day one and knows how defenceless we become when we are away from Word and Sacrament.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews had that very concern:
He said:
Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of Christ’s return is drawing near.
The church, our gathering together is our stronghold as Jesus told Peter:
I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
We need to stand up against all the odds and declare as Joshua did:
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD! (Joshua 24:15).
We can go nowhere else because only Jesus has the words of eternal life and the church is the body of Christ.
May the peace of God that surpasses our understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Sermon 19th August 2018: Year B: 13th Sunday after Pentecost:Text John 6:51-58 – The blood of Christ cleanses us

Sermon 19th August 2018
Text: John 6:51-58 – The blood of Christ cleanses us

It must have sounded pretty strange to the people listening to Jesus today.
He’s talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
While we understand this with the benefit of knowing about the Last Supper and Holy Communion, Jesus hadn’t yet sat down at the Last Supper with his disciples to explain that the passing of bread and wine “is my body and blood”.
But it must sound just as strange to the millions (or even billions) today who don’t understand the Christian faith and the comfort that receiving the body and blood of Christ brings to Christians.
It must sound absolutely ludicrous to those who hear the words of Jesus when he says:
"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” (John 6:54)
But have you ever wondered how that can be or have you just accepted it because that’s what you’ve been told?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with accepting it without truly understanding how it does what it says it does.
But it does help in understanding the history of just how Holy Communion gives Christians the comfort of eternal life on Judgment Day, and as Jesus says:
“I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:54b)
So what is it about Holy Communion that brings assurance of eternal life?
Well, firstly it is to do with the forgiveness of our sins and therefore assurance of our pardon on Judgement Day.
To understand that we go back to the Old Testament and Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt.
Moses had been sent by God to demand Pharaoh release the Israelites as fulfilment of God’s covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:15).
Moses went to Pharaoh but Pharaoh refused his request.
God sent 9 plagues to punish and persuade Pharaoh but his heart was hardened and he refused to listen to Moses and God.
So God sent one last plague – the angel of death that would put to death every first born in the land of every family.
However, the Israelites were given an instruction that would free them from the angel of death.
They would sacrifice a lamb and place its blood on their door frames.
Then when the angel of death came and saw the blood of the lamb the angel would Passover that household and the family would be spared from God’s judgment.
(Hence the name “Passover)
If we then think forward to the New Testament and when John the Baptist sees Jesus he cries out:
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John sees that Jesus is the new Passover lamb whose blood ensures that at the coming judgment God’s judgment will Passover those who are covered by the blood of Christ –the Lamb of God.
That’s the significance of why we sing The Lamb of God in our liturgy as we prepare to receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion.
And when Jesus was at the Last Supper it was the Passover feast they were celebrating.
So this is the assurance that God has set up for us to provide us with true comfort and assurance on Judgment Day that comes from the blood of Christ covering us.
But the assurance doesn’t stop there even though that would be sufficient to give us comfort.
Once the Israelites were in the new Promised Land, God established a sacrifice system where the priests would sacrifice a lamb or other animal and the blood of that animal would be splashed on the altar to cleanse the sin of Israel.
When we again turn to the New Testament we discover another symbol connecting Christ’s blood with that assurance of forgiveness.
In 1 Corinthians St Paul says:
Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? (1 Corinthians 6:19).
So inside of us is the altar of God as our body is the temple for God’s presence, the Holy Spirit.
As we receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion we have that assurance of forgiveness as the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, is splashed onto the altar in our bodies.
So this is the significance of what Jesus is saying when he says:
"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” (John 6:54)
So this is how God provides us with comfort and how we can be sure on Judgment Day, not because of anything we have done but by receiving from God what he has established to remove our sin.
But as the temple of God Paul says that we should live as God’s holy people.
And he says as the temple of God we should honour God with our bodies.
And we do that by living as God’s holy people.
Fleeing from things that will desecrate the temple.
Resisting temptation and making every effort to live as God’s holy people.
Or as Paul says – offer yourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1,2)
Sometimes that’s not as easy as it sounds as our nagging sins keep presenting themselves.
We find ourselves doing the things that we know we shouldn’t.
It’s not easy, and Paul is the first to recognise that:
He says:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15-25)
So although we struggle with sin, God has given us confidence for the great Day of Judgment not by trying to balance away our sin with good deeds but by having his judgment Passover us by the blood of Christ as it did on that first Passover.
Luther called this a forensic justification where we are pronounced righteous rather than being judged.
Just think today how a criminal’s blood aids forensic investigations in finding guilt.
God’s forensic justification forgives our guilt because of Jesus’ blood.
That was the righteousness Abraham experienced:
Abraham believed the LORD, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3).
That’s what Holy Communion does for us – it credits us as righteous before God and comforts us on that day when all must present themselves before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).
So come and eat, come and drink, the body and blood of Christ is given to you to assure you that Christ will raise you on the last day.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Sermon 12th August 2018: Year B: 12th Sunday after Pentecost:Text Ephesians 4:25-5:2 - Using our anger

Sermon 12th August 2018:
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – using our anger

Once again, in Melbourne, the news and media has been dominated by violence and anger.
I’m sure other states have similar incidents.
On the weekend a young footballer is punched behind the scenes by an opposition player who became frustrated with the close attention being paid to him and just let loose with a punch to his face.
It caused a broken jaw, loose teeth and a season ending injury.
Also on the news was the story of a man walking down the street in Mornington innocently minding his own business when 3 men walking towards him sees one of them punch him for no reason while they all walk off laughing.
Anger seems to dominate in society at present resulting in domestic violence, road rage, “one punch” attacks and many other examples where anger leads to other people getting hurt.
Even in the church anger can be something that causes vibrant “successful” churches to see splits that can cause members to leave.
Anger goes right back to the beginning of creation where Cain does not know how to contain his anger against his brother Abel and as a result murders him.
God tried to warn Cain about his anger but sadly his anger got the better of him:
Genesis 4 says:
The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
And that seems to be the scenario we all face.
Even the most humble and gentle Christian can explode with rage when the wrong buttons are pushed.
We’ve all faced those times:
We’ve been cut off in traffic and yell some angry words – we’re in a hurry and seem to get ever red light – you bang your steering wheel in anger;
Or you see that parking spot ahead and someone cuts in and takes it from you.
You clench your fists and grind your teeth and sometimes you just explode with anger.
Sadly we can also see that in relationships.
All relationships face times where we become frustrated and begin yelling at each other.
It might have been something that happened at work or on the drive home and we bottle it up and then the slightest thing becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back and we take it out on the ones we love most.
Anger is a human emotion that we cannot avoid, so like God’s advice to Cain, we must learn to master our anger otherwise our anger will master us and lead us to hurt other, particularly those we love most.
Jesus too expressed anger but it was a righteous anger which he was able to control.
As a result Jesus used his anger to correct error and bring healing.
In Mark 3:5-6 when Jesus wanted to heal on the Sabbath it says:
Jesus looked around at the Pharisees in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Notice the difference in dealing with anger:
Jesus uses his anger to heal while the Pharisees use their anger to plot to kill Jesus.
Does your anger sometimes get the better of you?
St Paul today gives very good advice on dealing with anger:
He says: Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
Notice that Paul does not condemn anger.
Anger is a human emotion and sometimes suppressing our anger can be just as harmful.
But he advises to deal with your anger immediately;
Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.
Sleeping on the couch or walking off in a huff doesn’t solve anger but can lead to further and even permanent harm in a relationship.
Speak with one another.
Use God’s gift of confession and forgiveness to reconcile just as God reconciled himself to us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8)
You don’t have to wait till someone is right or wrong to forgive as God exampled in forgiving us while we were yet sinners.
Paul also highlights that our anger is what the devil uses to create further havoc.
He says – do not make room for the devil, or in other versions “do not give the devil a foothold”.
That’s where Cain went wrong - instead of mastering his anger he allowed the devil to use his anger to kill his own flesh and blood – his brother Abel.
The devil will provoke you – “you’re right – why should you apologise” or “you’re not going to let them get away with that, are you?”
The devil’s aim is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10) and he will use our anger to do so.
But Jesus has shown us a better way.
When his attackers finally got their way against him and nailed him to the cross he does not seek his Father to avenge his death but cries out “"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34).
Likewise Jesus calls on us to seek ways of reconciling even against those who intend to harm us;
There is the parable of the Good Samaritan which saw a Samaritan stop to help an Israelite who had been hurt even though Israelites despised Samaritans.
And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to his listeners “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Yes it is hard to curb our anger at times but it is our anger that can cause so much hurt to others.
When we allow our anger to direct our actions it can make us feel vindicated for a moment but it may cause a lifetime of regret in the harm we’ve caused to another person, particularly someone we love.
But anger can also cause a lifetime of regret for ourselves as we see examples of “one punch can kill” with futures ruined through jail and the knowledge that we’ve take another person’s life.
The devil will look for that foothold into our lives to cause his havoc so we are to be alert when anger takes hold and not let the sun go down until we have dealt with our anger through confession and forgiveness.
St Peter warns that the devil never rests in finding ways to do his work – He says: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
In our anger we may react and feel we have been vindicated but it will not last as our anger will resurface.
But when we allow the love of God to master over us we have that peace of God that surpasses understand to rule over us.
Let us seek ways to use our anger to bring healing and in our anger not sin.
Let us not allow the sun go down on our anger and to allow the love of God flow to others that they may come to know the love of God and give thanks to him.